Smokers could receive free e-cigarettes from ‘food banks’ in Hertfordshire, as part of a ground-breaking research project.
As part of the proposed project, any smoker accessing the support of the ‘food bank’ would be routinely offered a free e-cigarette starter kit.
And that, it is believed, could save them money and be good for their health too.
Jim McManus, the director of public health, at Hertfordshire County Council who is helping to drive the project forward, says that several food banks in the county have already stepped forward to take part.
And he is hopeful it could be up and running by the end of this year.
However there remain some technicalities – including compliance with EU competition rules – that will need to be addressed, before it can be start.
It is estimated that switching to e-cigarettes could save a smoker with a 20-a-day habit more than £70 a week.
And it could reduce many of the harmful effects of tobacco smoking too, with some estimates suggesting vaping can be 95 per cent safer than smoking tobacco.
Mr McManus referred to the proposed project – which would be designed, run and evaluated by a research team from a UK university – at a meeting of the council’s public health and prevention cabinet panel on Thursday (May 9).
On the agenda at that meeting was the ‘Hertfordshire Tobacco Control Strategic Plan 2019-22’.
The plan highlights the widening gap in health inequalities between socio-economic groups, due to smoking – and the county coumcil’s plans to tackle it.
According to data in the report 12.7 per cent of the overall adult population in Hertfordshire smoke.
But amongst those working in routine or manual jobs, those on low incomes and those with mental health conditions smoking rates are much higher.
One in four people in routine or manual jobs – that’s 24.6 per cent – smoke, according to the Strategic Plan.
And more than one in three people in the county with a mental health condition – 35.7 per cent – are believed to smoke too.
The Strategic Plan sets out actions to target smokers in these groups, as well as pregnant women.
It will also target those who have conditions that are caused by – or made worse by – smoking and those who are most addicted and have previously failed attempts to quit.
The report to the panel states: “Smoking is the main cause of preventable illness and premature death in England and in Hertfordshire, and has a greater impact on lower socio-economic groups, causing a widening gap in health inequalities between the better and the least well off, with some groups dying 16-20 years earlier than the general population.”
According to the Strategic Plan, the county council will also seek to prevent access to illegal and illicit tobacco in the county, by preventing sales to under-18s and identifying sources of illegal tobacco.
Meanwhile, according to the report to the cabinet panel, 28,702 smokers attended a local stop smoking service between April 2014 and March 2018. And – of those – 15,757 quit for at least four weeks.